Stuff – Josephine, Hirschfeld and Sable

Though it is a little early to start our inventory – well actually it is never too early and when we arrived here 3 years ago I vowed to keep the inventory up-to-date and dutifully enter each new item when it was purchased. I really must find out where the inventory programme is on the hard drive. Let’s hope it wasn’t on the PC that fried last year!

Anyway I’ve been taking a look at a few of the things that we have hanging around the house and checking evaluation – mostly for insurance purposes. And I’ve been getting a few surprises – and so will my insurance company when I talk about a new policy.

Back in the late 70s early 80s we got into the habit of spending a week in Provincetown every summer with our friends Bernie and Don. It was a week of sun, food, drink, drag shows (Charles Pierce, Jim Bailey) and just relaxing – though somehow we never made it to the Tea Dance at the Boathouse. I know what the hell sort of gay men were we?????

There was (and I discover still is – 41 years in business) a gallery called Graphics Etc on Commercial St where I bought two lithographs -a caricature by Al Hirschfeld, one of the greats of graphic arts, the other by Kas Sable, whose work I recall as appearing in After Dark magazine. I still have both – the Sable has always hung in the bedroom no matter where we’ve lived and the Hirschfeld in the living or family room.

I will always remember the look on the face of the poor customs officer at the Canadian border when I brought this litho across. She was a young summer student and she wasn’t at all sure I wasn’t trying to bring pornography into the country. I had a feeling there was a discussion between her and her supervisor afterward as to what constitutes art and what is just plan smut. I haven’t been able to track anything down on Sable so I’m not sure if the litho actually appreciated or not – and frankly I’ve always enjoyed it so it doesn’t really matter.

The reason I bought the Hirschfeld was two-fold – first it was a Hirschfeld and I had seen his Broadway drawings in books since I was a wee laddie and second because it was of an entertainer that I adored: Josephine Baker. I believe it was done when she made her comeback in New York in 1973. As I have said before I was fascinated with the French Music Hall from an early age and had read about, listen to recordings of and seen pictures of La Bakir and when she appeared at the old Imperial Room in Toronto I made sure I was there to see her live. Not only did I see her perform but met her afterward and helped her into her slippers – don’t ask!

On April 8, 1975 at the age of 68 she opened in a new revue at the Bobino on the Left Bank, not quite the Folies Bergere or Casino de Paris of her past but a triumph nonetheless. Four days later she was found laying in a coma surrounded by the newspapers and magazines heralding her success – she died later that day. I had a ticket for a performance the following week.

As always with a few strokes of his pen – and including his signature hidden NINAs – Hirschfeld captured the glamour, showmanship and joy of performance that accounted for Josephine Baker’s success and popularity over 50 years. When I bought it back in 1980 or 81 it cost $150.00 USD – a not inconsiderable sum in those days but still within my budget. When I checked what Hirschfeld lithos were going for these days I was frankly astounded. It appears that the little stroll into Graphics etc was a wise investment move.

Hirschfeld worked almost up until his death at the age of 99 – recording in pen and ink the history of the American theatre and cinema. This video shows him at work on a drawing of Paul Newman as he appeared in Our Town in late 2002.

27 giugno – San Cirillo di Alessandria

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

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